At a party on Saturday, someone was talking about Leona Helmsley, the multi-millionaire American hotelier who went to prison for tax fraud in 1989. She achieved notoriety for her view that “only the little people pay taxes”, an aggravating factor in the lengthy sentences which were handed down.
Gordon Brown is pretty contemptuous about “little people” as well, as we know from his advisers’ views on grannies losing their blouses and the “losers” hit by his pension raid – see Brown tramples on losers and grannies. As Chancellor he could ignore them, skulking in the Treasury whilst Blair faced the cameras.
So it was fun to watch him having to go out and meet the little people on Saturday when, after a week of hoping that Hull would quietly drown and get out of the public eye, Brown had to go there and see for himself the scale of the problem.
He was accompanied by a different sort of little person. I can’t imagine Brown seeks out Hazel Blears’ company, and even I had some sympathy on seeing that the Bouncing Carrot was his guide round the devastation (is it true that a senior Labour figure said that global warming would at least bring the benefit that Blears would drown first?).
There was some fun to be had amidst all the misery in watching Brown trying to work out what to do with his face. He is just getting the hang of this smiling business and now his keepers had told him to smile and look concerned simultaneously. What was it Gerald Ford could not do simultaneously with chewing gum? The polite versions say “walk”. Brown has the same problem with smiling.
We saw a woman tell him of her problems and needs, and he gestured to an aide to write it all down before moving on. It reminded me of the time Putin went out amongst the people after a submarine sank. A photograph showed a grieving mother starting to have her say before a hyperdermic was plunged into her. There is something about Gordon Brown meeting the public which brought that incident to mind. I wonder where that woman is now.
£14 million was promised for an emergency fund – slightly less than the £15 million which was lopped off the flood relief budget last year. That is a fraction of the total financial cost of these floods, and the financial cost is only a small part of the wrecked lives of the little people. But the little people of Hull can be safely ignored – they will return Labour members anyway, so there is no obvious return to be had from investing in flood relief measures for them.
One interesting aspect of this is that it is the first time that Brown has come face to face with his victims – “his” victims in that the failure to allocate funds for flood defences is a direct consequence of Gordon Brown Budgets.
Only £600 million was allocated for flood defences this year, 1.6 per cent up on the previous year. Nearly £30 million was given to local authorities in the same year to help them impose and enforce the smoking ban. So twice as much money was spent making sure that people do not smoke in public places as was cut from the flood defence budget, denying funds to prevent the misery of flooding. Something wrong there, I feel.